Linseed Straw Mulch
Linseed, the seed of common flax (Linum usitatissimum), has been part of our diet for the last twenty years or so. I grind a tablespoon of organic linseed in the coffee grinder and spread it on my breakfast porridge, and June sprinkles the ground seed on her cold-soaked rolled oats. We figure we’re getting some health benefits from the oily seeds. We definitely wouldn’t be bothering if the only way we could get the oil was by adding an expensive bottle of flaxseed oil to the grocery list.
But it’s only over the course of the last week that we’ve started to get acquainted with linseed straw. We knew you could buy it locally and that it was used as a mulch, and that was about it.
Early to mid-autumn’s the time to get pea straw spread over the vegetable garden’s large bare areas to suppress the weeds. As our own gardens, lawns and pastures remind us whenever we go out the door, it’s been a phenomenal year for lush growth of all kinds. Weeds had such a great time amongst the pea vines grown in the district that they seeded everywhere: selling heaps of rearing to go weed seeds disguised as pea straw not a good look.
Small square bales were available from an ag. contractor in Timaru, but I’d have to spend: spend two hours getting there and back, spend on petrol, and at $9 each, spend $230 for 30 bales. Whereas Chris, the local contractor, said he could sell us linseed straw at $5 a bale delivered. On the strength of all that it took us no time at all to convince ourselves that linseed straw would be okay.
“Callaghans grow it for the seed?” I asked as he tossed them off the back of the small truck’s deck. “And Biggs, ” he said.
“For human -“
“Consumption.” Well I had hesitated questioningly after ‘human’.
A couple of farming neighbours (not organic I might add): local grain farmers must regard the flax as a viable commercial crop. Curiousity aroused, when I got back indoors I spent half an hour on a not so random surf of the net. Whoops, judging from the number of sites I visited (see below), I think you’re onto me: “Half an hour? Yeah, right.”
I was particularly interested to learn that you can still buy New Zealand grown organic linseed online. The only organic seed we’ve been able to buy in the shops in recent years is grown in China. I’ve yet to compare costs, and whether a rural delivery fee would be added to the standard courier rate. We’d much prefer to buy New Zealand produce.
Because, up until now, I’ve known so little about flax as a crop, it didn’t take much of a search to learn new stuff. I’d guessed it was introduced but not that it was linen flax. The same flax species that had been grown on Fairlie farms and milled in a Fairlie factory during and for six years after the Second World War. One of seventeen New Zealand mills supplying Britain with linen to help offset war shortages. (See South Canterbury rural scenes from “Whites Aviation Collection, Alexander Turnbull Library”)
We’d seen paddocks covered in small blue flowers but mistakenly thought it must be phacelia which is grown as a cover crop, for its seed, and to attract bees. Flax is also a good cover crop, and its long tap roots help activate phosphorous in the soil. That it’s relatively slow to break down was something I did know and had been one of our reservations about getting it as a mulch. Pea straw, in contrast, is well on the way to adding humus to the soil by the time you come to work it in the following spring.
I carted the linseed straw bales over to the vegetable garden a few days ago. June’s made a start on spreading it over all bare soil areas and also over the black plastic that’s on the paths. The bales were delivered promptly and at a reasonable price. And as June said, “I’m just relieved we managed to get something.”
Come next autumn we’ll be hoping Chris is back to baling pea straw again. In the meantime, it’s reassuring to bring to mind Gandhi, saying something along the lines that compromise was often necessary to ensure the job got done.
My half hour’s worth of sites visited:
That’s all on modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully till next Monday. Thanks for your company. Bye for now.